First published January 14, 2021 in TheStatehouseFile.com
Groups across the state, such as educators and people with underlying medical conditions, feel brushed aside and misinformed about when they will receive eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine.
In December 2020, the CDC issued recommendations to federal, state and local governments about who should be vaccinated first. States then used this guidance to develop their own plans for distributing the vaccines.
Under Indiana’s present vaccination plan, currently in phase 1b, those now eligible for the vaccine are a wide group of health care workers; long-term care facility residents and staff; public-facing first responders like firefighters, law enforcement, corrections officers, DNR conservation officers and emergency medical service agencies; and those 70 and older.
Indiana Department of Health officials said that in the coming weeks, eligibility will be expanded to more age groups, starting with those 60-69 next.
Several surrounding states have included educators and those with multiple comorbidities in their phase 1a or 1b distribution plans. In Indiana, some belonging to these groups said a more public plan that truly expresses when they might receive vaccinations would help ease their frustrations.
Indiana State Teachers Association president Keith Gambill issued a statement calling on Gov. Eric Holcomb to “follow CDC guidance, prioritize teachers in the state’s vaccination plan and communicate when the vaccine will be available to educators.”
“We need teachers vaccinated and safely teaching in person to best serve students and move forward with restoring our state’s economy,” Gambill said.
A third- and fourth-grade teacher from Southern Indiana who wished to remain anonymous in fear of retribution at her job, said, “Indiana doesn’t even have a plan.”
“I’m not surprised we were left off the vaccine list. I was hopeful when I saw other states prioritizing educators, but Indiana just doesn’t value teachers,” she said.
“We can’t work from home … We need protection. If we can’t get it right away, we will wait our turn. But not telling us when that will be makes me feel sick.”
She said her husband works in public service, so they rarely leave the house apart from going to work and coming home because they want to protect their 1-year-old son.
“Access to the vaccine would mean feeling safe coming home from work and hugging my little boy,” she said. “It would mean that my fellow teachers and child care providers would also be safe and able to protect their families while doing their important work.”
The teacher said access to the vaccine would help keep traditional education available to students.
“We know that hands-on learning is the most effective,” she said. “It would mean our students would have access to at least two hot meals a day. It would mean we focus on and care for our youngest Hoosiers.”
A Game Changing Measure
Ben Ranfeld, a strategic learning technology consultant for Ball State University with multiple respiratory conditions, is on oxygen 24 hours a day. He said he has only left his home six times since the end of February 2020. Five of those times were for doctors’ appointments.
His family, including his wife and two young children, all switched to working and learning from home at the start of the pandemic for the entire family’s protection.
Ranfeld said he and his lung doctors were surprised to learn that those with medical conditions were taken off the list of who would be receiving the vaccine early.
“I’d been told up until last week that I would be getting my vaccine as soon as health care workers had been vaccinated,” Ranfeld said. “[My doctors have] been told they’re rolling it out by age, and then there’s just no plan after that, just kind of see what happens.”
Ranfeld said some of his friends from college, who have no underlying conditions, have called and told him that they were able to visit drive-thru vaccination sites in their states or schedule an appointment to get their shot.
“I know it depends on how many vaccines we’re getting and all that stuff, but especially hearing that a friend of mine could just go through a drive-thru and get a shot in the arm just kind of felt like, ‘Why can’t I do that?’” Ranfeld said.
Ranfeld said a vaccine would change the game for him and his family.
“I have not gone out to put gas in my car … I haven’t gone grocery shopping,” Ranfeld said. “We’re getting everything delivered to us. If I had a vaccine, I would be able to, I feel like, live my life again, actually, get out, go somewhere, do something.”
Gov. Holcomb shared in his weekly COVID-19 press conference Wednesday he has over 104 letters from people who are risking their lives working but insists “we’re trying to get to everyone as fast as we can, but we’re starting with the most at-risk of death and being hospitalized.”
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the Indiana Department of Health, echoed the governor’s message. She said all the data her team has looked at shows the state’s most vulnerable populations are based on age.
“Even if they have a low risk of exposure, they still have the highest risk of death and hospitalization, so we’re really concentrating on these groups now, and we’ll just see how much more vaccine will we get in the coming weeks, the coming month, to be able to expand that eligibility to different groups,” Weaver said.
Sydney Byerly is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.